Hello friends! In recent blogs I have talked a lot about the Illini 4000. This organization has changed my entire college experience and I could not be happier that I joined. I think its finally time that I blogged about I4K so you can get the full rundown.
To begin, Illini 4000 is a student-run nonprofit registered student organization that raises money for cancer research and patient support services through annual cross country bike rides. Since the organization began in 2007, we have raised over 1.3 million dollars. This summer, we will send out our 13th team to bike from New York City to San Francisco. This is the 2019 Bike America Team; check out their profiles!
What the Illini 4000 does that is different from other cross country organizations is collect stories through The Portraits Project. The PP is a branch of I4K committed to documenting the American cancer experience and creating a network for those who have been affected by cancer. Along the ride, riders meet and interact with a ton of people and unfortunately, it is rare when we meet someone who has no connection to cancer. When we meet those with a connection, we ask them to tell us their story. The people we talk to aren’t always cancer patients or survivors. We often find ourselves talking to caregivers, family members, friends, medical personnel, anyone with a connection to cancer.
Now that you have the overview of the Illini 4000, I wanted to share how I found out about it. Before freshman year, I came to Illinois to register for classes. I remember in passing I heard one of the orientation leaders say “there’s even a group that bikes across the country,” and my reaction was, “I could never.”
Alright, now let’s fast forward to Sights and Sounds during orientation week (It’s where you take your huge class picture!). Multiple different organizations went up and presented and one was Illini 4000. They mentioned that they biked to raise money for cancer research. At the time, my best friend’s mom (who was my second mom) was fighting cancer. I told myself that I was going to go to an info session.
At first I decided that I wasn’t going to apply and wait until the next year, the application deadline had passed and it was too late. A week later, my best friend’s mom passed. I was devastated. I recieved an email from the Illini 4000, they had extended the deadline for the application by a week. That very night, I sat down in the basement of my residence hall and applied to the team. I told myself I was going to do it, and I was going to do it for Donna. I later recieved an email with my acceptance to the 2017 Bike America Team.
Yeah, so that’s how I ended up joining I4K. I still think it was one of the best decisions I made. Alright, so I was on the team, now what? We start training, fundraising, and taking care of ride logistics. As riders, we had to train twice a week, once with our team. The training allowed us to get in better shape and get to know our team members. In addition, we were responsible for raising $4,000. That number scared me so I tried everything I could to get there. I called friends, family, old teachers, anyone who could possibly donate. In addition, I raised money through on-campus fundraisers! That went on until spring break and we were finally hopping on our bikes to learn how to ride like a team.
As the Illini 4000, we think it is absoultely crucial for everyone to ride safely. This is why the organization spends weeks before the actual ride training. We learn how to make call outs to warn riders behind us of stuff on the road or potholes, how to draft on a windy day, behave as cyclist around cars, and how to ride a road bike. Most of the people who join I4K are not cyclists, one of my teammates didn’t even know how to ride a bike. Because of this, we take training very seriously to ensure everyone is ready to hit the road for the next 70 days.
At that point, we passed training and were ready to head to NYC. We don’t ride with our gear and backpacks on us and instead have a van that holds all our stuff and drives past us when we we’re riding. Everyone on the team gets the same backpack and amount of space in the van for one sleeping bag and pad. With limited space, we really had to pack light. I brought 3 t-shirts, 2 jerseys, 1 dress, 1 pair of hiking sandals, 1 bathing suit, 2 shorts, 2 biking shorts, and other small essentials (toothbrush, soap, etc.). Those were the only things I wore the entire summer and I am going to be honest, it makes getting ready so much faster.
We hopped on a train to NYC and headed off. We handle all the ride logistics throughout the school year so we know exactly where we are going, staying, and what route we are riding before we even start. This way we can focus more on safety and having fun! Once in NYC, we had a day to explore but after that it was game time! I will still never forget how crazy it was to start the ride. Here are some pictures I found from the very start of the ride when we arrived to NYC.
As you can see from the last video, it’s like camping indoors. Along the ride we stayed in churches, YMCAs, schools, homes, anywhere that let our team stay overnight for free (we want to cut expenses as much as possible so we can donate more). We also ate a hardy diet of oatmeal, PB&J, and spaghetti with lentils. A lot of the time we received donations from restaurants or our host would provide us dinner. I really learned about American hospitality that summer. Everyone was willing to help. All we had to do was ask!
We kept riding and riding until we passed every state and eventually made it to San Franscico. We biked through mountains, cities, and many cornfields, but in the end, it was an absolute blessing having completed the ride with my team. At the end of the blog I will upload a ton of pictures you can all check out and I’ll add a link to a video one of my teammates made of the ride.
The last thing I want to mention is that if you are in any way interested in doing I4K throughout your time at Illinois, please reach out! Comment below and I can answer any questions you may have. I currently serve as the Director of Marketing on our board.
Anyone can bike from NYC to San Franscico. I had so many doubts but they were all proven wrong. Summer 2017 will always hold a special place in my heart.
That’s all for this one friends, have a great start of spring!